Disclaimer: This is a work of criticism produced by a student.  This paper will be posted from 11/01/03 to 11/01/05



The Evolution of Music Production



magine hearing a great song on the radio and not being able to go to your local Wal-Mart to buy the CD, download it on Kazaa[1], or hear it again on your commercial-free satellite or internet radio. However, that was the case in the early 1920’s when the first commercial radio station began broadcasting.  Radio programming was performed live – everything from the national anthem to commercials.  There were no “recordings” for radio announcers to play or for the public to purchase because there were not efficient and inexpensive ways to record music.  Since this earlier time, improved methods came about.  However even when vinyl LP records hit the stores and began selling by the millions, the recording industry continued to search for advancements in recording methods, improved sound quality and better ways to safely store music.  These technological changes have taken us into the digital age, which is still rapidly maturing. 


From the Beginning

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Edison’s Phonograph

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1888 Gramophone

 Before we understand how music is produced today, we should understand how it was recorded in the past.  Physically recording sound for playback has been around since 1877 when Thomas Edison first introduced the phonograph[HL1] .  Sound would enter an opening and the vibrations would be etched into a tinfoil cylinder.  Improvements of the phonograph, called graphophone and gramophone were made.  The graphophone used a wax cylinder for recording.  The gramophone had many advantages compared to the phonograph.  A “master” disc, with a reverse image of the track, could easy make copies by pressing this pattern on a ‘blank’ record.  This was an easy [HL2] way to make many copies and this was a very popular item “in the UK from 1900 right through the 1950’s.” (AUK).  Recordings until now had limited audio quality with surface noises and distortion.


Text Box:  The LP Record is introduced


In 1948, the vinyl record was released.  Vinyl is quieter than the shellac gramophone records significantly improving the signal-to-noise ratio.  Vinyl also has smaller grooves and revolves at 33 1/3 times a minute, much slower than the gramophone, allowing 25 minutes of playing time per side for the 12” LP record.  The 7” record, or the single, revolved at 45 RPM [HL3] (revolutions per second) and allowed 8 minutes of playing time.  Sales and popularity of vinyl records peaked in the 1960’s and 70’s.

The Beat Goes On



Analog Sets the Standard Text Box: Analog recording devices use a plastic tape coated with magnetic particles moving across a magnetic recording head at a constant speed to record and playback. There is always an "erase head", first in the tape path, to erase and re-align the tape particles before they hit the "record head". In the "two-head" machine there is one head for both recording and playback. The "three-head" design features one head dedicated to recording, the "sync head", and another for playback, "the repro head". Professional machines have three heads.  (Faber, S.  par. 8)


Text Box:  Until recently, "Analog" recording was the preferred option for professional recording available to most musicians.  Analog recording takes electrical signals and transfers them into magnetic signals on tape.  For many years, “reel to reel” tape machines were the recording standard.  The use of tape had two immense advantages: performances could be recorded in a more manageable fashion than cutting a groove on a disc and the recording could be edited.  Tapes could be cut at certain locations and pasted together with adhesive tape; this is called ‘splice’.  Tape can also have multiple tracks.  Multiple track recording can record individual tracks of sound (such as drums, guitar, voice, etc) on one tape.  These tracks are later mixed which is adjusting the levels of individual tracks to make a master tape.  Adding effects such as, delay, echo, flanging, and phasing was also found to be possible with tape recordings. 

Text Box:  The cassette tape, released in 1964, displaced the LP record.  This medium [HL4] was available in most homes, cars, and in portable devices like the Sony Walkman.  Also, the availability and functionality of tape recording devices helped in the success of the cassette tape.









The Digital Revolution

            When the CD (compact disc) was released in the early 1980’s, this combined music production with the digital age.  Digital technology “samples” sound rather than make analogous recordings of it.  The “Recording Handbook,” by Shane Faber, describes the sampling process by stating “The input signal is sampled 1000's of times per second and each acoustic slice is given it's own digital number, consisting of 0's and 1's.”  (Faber, Ch. 15)  Digital sound does not make a continuous reproduction of the sound, but tricks the ear into thinking it is continuous sound by sampling at very small intervals, similar to individual frames of images making film. 


Text Box: A           

s computer performance has sped up to where it is today, they have taken over as the preferred method of recording sound.  This high performance enables many tracks to play and record simultaneously.  Also being digital, most of the work is non-destructive.  Meaning, if some changes have been made to a recording, it can be “undone” with a simple click.  There a many other advantages to using digital recording as opposed to analog recording.  The computer can ‘mix’ and add effects with ease.  As computers and technology get better, the need for hardware outside the computer is diminishing.  All your work can be done on the computer with no outside assistance from other hardware.  The main benefit of digital recording has to be the ease of editing.  Editing that would have been hard, almost impossible, with analog recording, is now simple in the digital domain.  After the final mix has been made, the production can be ‘burned’ to CD or downloaded via the Internet.  The Internet is [HL5] also very important to music production.  People from different locations can collaborate on the same project without a central meeting place.       

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In an online article, Polar Levine had this to say about the digital revolution….

“The digital revolution brought state-of-the-art music production tools onto every musician's desktop. It allowed musicians to compose, produce, and release their own CDs independently of the music industry's corporate show-biz machine.  The Internet opened up unlimited potential for the distribution of indie music to a vital, but invisible, global audience.”  (Levine)

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The Next Step


Although the digital era is still in it infancy, it is a rapidly changing time for the recording and production of music.  With copyrights issues surrounding digitally downloading music there is no doubt the music industry will continue to search for better ways to record and distribute music.  There are those that might argue that the more archaic ways of recording music were ‘purer’ and more true to the sound.  Or that the comeback of the LP is really the best means to ensure your music is not illegally downloaded and shared from user to user.

As this century continues to speed along, there is only so much that can be said with absolute certainty on this topic.  Our past has shown us that there is always room for improvement.  However, will the future bring about perfection, or just more ‘new & different’ gadgets?  I guess it all depends on whom you ask.






























Faber, Shane  “Recording Handbook.”  ©1996 JeepJazz Music     Revised -- July 31, 2002  http://www.jeepjazz.com/handbk.html (28 Sep. 2003).


AUK. “Gramophone” 1999-2003 Audio.UK.Com – 26 Sept. 2003



Dr. Dan Brooks.  The Culture of World Civilizations” 2003 Webslingers26 Sept. 2003 http://www.aquinas.edu/homepages/brookdan/CWCtext/chap15/ch15a.html


Levine, Polar.  “Genre Blues: The Mote Around the Indie Music Mystique, Part 1”  2003 MusicDish Network27 Sept. 2003 http://www.4cdmusic.com/articles/musicbiz/Genre%20Blues.html




Jevtic, Zoran, and Joanna Buick.  Cyberspace For Beginners.  Trumpington, Cambridge, Icon Books, 1995







[1] According to CNET.com, KaZaA is currently the Internets most downloaded application.  The file-sharing software has been downloaded over 279 million times.

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